Ensuring good governance and planning are recognised as catalysts for developing and sustaining water and sanitation systems. This is vital for achieving the much-touted global and national policies on access to water and basic sanitation for all. Despite the benefits of good governance and planning, the procedure for decision-making on rural water and sanitation has often taken a top-down approach, with minimal attention to consultation and engagement of local communities. Until the mid-1970s, planning and governance processes around community water systems in Ghana had usually taken a hierarchical, top-down or centralised approach. This top-down approach is criticised for needing more effective than participatory governance arrangements. Increasing evidence suggests that top-down approaches must be more adequate and successful, highlighting the need for bottom-up and community-led efforts toward water and sanitation delivery. Community participation and good governance have received increasing attention as potential solutions for sustaining drinking water systems and maintaining hygienic environments.

A thriving society should promote good governance, accountability, and democratisation by increasing citizens’ participation in planning around social amenities like water and sanitation. A shift toward a bottom-up process could offer several benefits, including stakeholder empowerment, user participation, and good governance of water resources. As a fundamental human right, having access to water and sanitation calls for local people and communities to be included at all levels of decision- making. To maintain public health and ensure a hygienic environment, there is a need for improved access to clean water and essential sanitation services.

Countries are thus admonished by global protocols, including goal six of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the 2063 Agenda of the African Union, and the visions of the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW), to create spaces for equal participation as well as universal access to water and sanitation. Achieving these goals calls for the involvement of stakeholders, including local communities. To this end, efforts have been made through Constitutional and policy provisions to address challenges to drinking water and sanitation delivery in Ghana. Key among such measures was the decentralisation of drinking water systems through the establishment of institutions, including the Ghana Water Company (to serve urban/peri-urban settlements), the Community Water and Sanitation Agency-CWSA (to collaborate with local Assemblies in serving small towns and rural settlements), and increased private sector participation in the water and sanitation sector. With the establishment of the CWSA in 1998 (by Act 564), it was anticipated that water availability, affordability, accessibility, and quality issues could be curtailed. User participation was introduced as a critical step to improve the operation and management of rural water systems. It was argued that local communities are more knowledgeable about the unique aspects of thei communities' economic, social, cultural, and environmental problems and, thus, may manage water resources more effectively and sustainably.

However, while studies have examined how marginalised urban and peri-urban populations negotiate access to water, much work in non-urban contexts focuses predominantly on water resource management, with little attention to the governance experiences and challenges rural communities face. Evidence from the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) and the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) shows that rural areas often face unique water management issues, such as limited infrastructure and reliance on traditional practices. Understanding these context-specific dynamics is crucial for developing comprehensive and inclusive water resource management strategies that address the needs of all communities, regardless of their location or cultural background.

The FAR-LeaF research project is titled “Community Participation in Governance and Sustainability of Rural Water and Sanitation Systems in the Savannah Region, Ghana”. The study investigates and hopes to strengthen community participation in the governance and sustainability of drinking water and sanitation systems in rural contexts.

A thriving society should promote good governance, accountability, and democratisation by increasing citizens’ participation in planning around social amenities like water and sanitation.

The study is motivated by the increasing concerns over players’ failure in the rural water and sanitation sector and the need for sustainable pathways to enhance service delivery. The researcher will work with stakeholders to co-create and co-produce sustainable pathways for inclusive governance of the rural water and sanitation sector.

A mixed research method involving qualitative and quantitative approaches is used for the data collection to benefit from the combined strengths of both systems. Household surveys, expert interviews, focus group discussions (FGDs), and workshops will engage stakeholders at the household, district, and rural community levels to assess residents’ perceptions of the performance of the rural water and sanitation governance structures, their lived experiences of the decision-making and planning processes and pathways for inclusive governance. Due to gender sensitivities, the prevalent patriarchal system, and the area’s social structure, the FGDs are organised on a gender basis, allowing for the active participation of women.

The study findings serve as a crucial starting point for developing strategic plans and policies for addressing water and sanitation issues in rural communities. In addition, the study provides scientific evidence for policymakers to identify critical areas that require immediate attention and develop targeted solutions. Citizen empowerment and knowledge development will likely be enhanced through the platforms offered for knowledge exchange, experience sharing, and co-development of context-specific solutions to community water and sanitation governance challenges. This could potentially strengthen stakeholder engagement (at the local community level), awaken sanitation consciousness, and responsible citizenship required for the uptake of future water and sanitation governance matters in the communities.

Article submitted by Propser Bazaanah


The Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) is a fellowship programme, focussed on developing transdisciplinary research and leadership skills, to address the complex, inter-linked challenges of health, well-being, and environmental risks in Africa.